New Delhi, Dec. 12: Some past and present stalwarts have been known to ask questions in Parliament in return for money, but for the first time a group of unknown MPs has been caught in the act on camera, thanks to technology.
A sting operation, carried out by the web portal Cobrapost headed by Aniruddha Bahal, who was also involved in the Tehelka revelations, showed 11 MPs taking money for putting posers before ministers in the House.
The MPs ' 10 from the Lok Sabha and one from the Rajya Sabha ' belong to the BJP, Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
But it was the BJP, which took the moral high ground in the oil-for-food scandal, that bore the deepest scars because six were from the party.
The operation began to be telecast on a news channel from eight in the morning. By the time Parliament met at 11, the presiding officers of both Houses had firmed up a strategy for damage control.
Rajya Sabha chairperson Bhairon Singh Shekhawat referred the matter to the House ethics committee. Headed by Karan Singh, the committee issued a showcause notice to BJP member Chhattrapal Singh Lodha and asked him to reply within 48 hours.
Karan Singh said the committee would present its preliminary report to Shekhawat tomorrow and hoped a final report would be in place when the session ended on December 23.
Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee first spoke to the leader of the House, Pranab Mukherjee, and the leader of the Opposition, L.K. Advani, and secured their consent to request the Money-for-Poser XI not to attend Parliament until the matter was settled.
Chatterjee, said official sources, felt the House could not take action against them without an inquiry.
Although the Lok Sabha has its own ethics panel, its rules have yet to be codified. In consultation with the parties, Chatterjee formed an inquiry committee, which was mandated to seek explanations and statements from the MP XI by Wednesday morning.
The committee, headed by Congress chief whip Pawan Kumar Bansal, was tasked to give its report by 4 pm on December 21. Chatterjee said the committee had been authorised to follow its own procedure and the report would be presented before the House.
Karan Singh said if proven guilty, the MPs could be censured, reprimanded, suspended or punished in any other way, including expulsion, deemed fit by the House.
In 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru had moved for expulsion of Congress MP H.G. Mudgal who had received monetary benefits in connection with his dealings with the Bullion Merchants Association of Mumbai. Mudgal had resigned.
Congress and BJP sources said given the mood of the political class, almost everybody favoured expulsion. Congress sources said they wanted to adhere to the precedent set by Nehru.
In private, most members acknowledged that while accepting bribes for asking leading questions was not exactly unheard of, the sight of some “selling their souls” for Rs 10,000 was “disgraceful and disgusting”.
“It is not a question of Congress and BJP but of the dignity of the House,” said a Congress MP, who claimed that Aligarh MP Choudhury Bijendra Singh had thrown out the Cobrapost team.
“The footage on members refusing to bite the bait should also have been played to give a more objective picture,” said Congress spokesman Anand Sharma.
The Congress and BJP suspended their MPs from their parliamentary parties. The BJP will conduct an internal probe.